Domestic and family violence is widespread in Australia. Approximately one quarter of women in Australia have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner. Domestic and family violence can be experienced in many ways that can cause physical, mental and emotional distress for the victim and their family. It is important to be able to identify an abusive relationship and how to seek help.

What is domestic and family violence?

Domestic and family violence is when violent or abusive behaviour occurs between current or former intimate partners and family members such as parent and a child, siblings and more.

Domestic and family violence occurs when one partner tries to exert power and control over the other, usually through fear. It can include physical, sexual, emotional, social, verbal, spiritual and economic abuse.

Types of domestic and family violence

Domestic and family violence can be in many forms:

  • Fear can be created through any behaviour which is used as a form of intimidation and makes the victim feel powerless.
  • Intimidation includes breaking of possessions, intimidating body language, hostile and aggressive questioning, constant calls, emails, text messages and stalking.
  • Physical abuse includes physical harm to the victim, victim’s children, the victim’s property, family, friends and pets. It may also include the threat of weapons.
  • Sexual abuse includes any forced or unwanted sexual interactions. This may include: forced sexual acts, harassment, or sexual harm.
  • Verbal abuse includes constant putdowns, insults and verbal threats that can destroy self-esteem and self-belief.
  • Emotional / psychological abuse includes behaviour / actions and comments to undermine the victims sense of self and destroy self-confidence / worth.
  • Spiritual abuse includes ridiculing the victims spiritual beliefs and or exclusion from taking part in cultural or spiritual activities.
  • Financial abuse occurs when the abuser takes control over financial resources. This may include not allowing you to work or control of money.
  • Social abuse occurs when the abuser criticises, jokes about or puts the victim down in front of family, friends, work friends etc and or controls where the victim goes and who the victim sees.
  • Cyber bullying / Cyber harassment includes use of email, instant messaging, chat rooms, mobile phone or other forms of information and digital technology to harass, humiliate, threaten or intimidate the victim.
  • Outing consists of threatening to “out” the victim’s sexuality to others without the victim’s consent.

Ways to identify an abusive situation

Charm

Abusers are often very charming toward the victim and the victim’s friends and family. Abusers have times in which they can be engaging, thoughtful, considerate and charismatic. Abusers may use this charm to gain personal information about their victim which may be used against them later.

Control

Over time the abuser may control every aspect of the victims life, who the victim talks to, what the victim wears, where and when the victim can go out and the victims access to money. An abuser may appear to lose control when they go into rage, it is important to remember that an abuser’s behaviour is a controlled action that often occurs with no witnesses. An abuser is able to stop violence when police arrive, and the abuser is able to direct where they physically abuse a victim so it is not visible to others.

Emotional Abuse

Abusers may use emotional abuse to destroy the victims self-esteem. The victim may be falsely blamed for the violence the victim experiences; the victim may be put down, called names or be threatened. Over time the victim may blame themselves for the violence and the victim may forget that they deserve to be treated with respect. Emotional abuse can be more difficult to heal than physical abuse.

Isolation

Abusers isolate victims geographically and socially. Abusers may move victims away from family and friends and support networks. The abuser may begin this with wanting to spend more and more time with the abuser; that can be misinterpreted as the abuser caring for the victim.

Jealousy

Jealousy can be used by the abuser as a means of controlling the victim. Abusers may accuse the victim of having affairs and seeing other men.

Victims of domestic and family violence may feel

  • Constantly fearful and ‘on edge’
  • Lost belief in self
  • Isolated and alone
  • Feelings of madness
  • Pain / suffering from physical injuries
  • Shamed or embarrassed
  • Guilty or depressed
  • Exhausted and without energy
  • Anxious
  • Confused about what is real and what is not
  • Sad, angry, tearful and fearful
  • Pressured and uncomfortable
  • Humiliated and confused
  • Restricted and controlled
  • Full of self blame and self loathing
  • Confused about what to do

The effects of violence on women can include:

  • Feeling trapped
  • Increased use of drugs and alcohol
  • Sleeping problems
  • Mental illness
  • Self harm or suicide
  • Nausea or headaches
  • Violence against children or partner
  • Losing touch with oneself
  • Feeling alone confused and afraid
  • Lack of trust in anyone
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Emotional distress

Effects on children

The effects of domestic and family violence are experienced by all family members. Living with violence can have as much an impact on children as the victims themselves. Children who witness abuse or live in a violent household experience the same fear, intimidation and threat to safety that the victim experiences. Children need a safe and supportive environment to develop their emotional, social, intellectual and physical wellbeing and to grow up to be healthy and well-adjusted. Studies show that children who have witnessed domestic violence are more likely to:

  • Display aggressive and/or socially inappropriate behaviours
  • Have diminished self esteem and self worth
  • Have poor academic performance, problem solving skills and concentration
  • Show emotional distress, phobias, anxiety or depression

Where to get help for domestic and family violence

There are many services that can help victims of domestic and family violence:

Call triple zero ‘000’: if you are in immediate danger

Important national numbers for help

  • Emergency 24/7 – 000
  • 1800 RESPECT 24/7 – 1800 737 732
  • Kids Help Line 24/7 – 1800 551 800
  • Sexual Assault Counselling Aust – 1800 211 028
  • Men’s Line – 1300 789 978
  • Men’s Referral Service 24/7 – 1300 766 491
  • TIS – need an interpreter? – 131 450

Important online help for your safety

  • 1800RESPECT chat online (24/7) – www.1800respect.org.au
  • Kids Help Line webchat counselling (24/7) – kidshelpline.com.au
  • MensLine online counselling – mensline.org.au
  • Men’s Referral Service live chat – ntv.org.au

What to expect when seeking help

All support services are confidential and are available to offer safety and support for victims and their families. Support services are able to provide options that are best suited to the needs of the victim. Bilingual interpreters, Indigenous and multicultural specialists can be made available.

Produced for myDr.com.au by Women’s Safety NSW

Last Reviewed: 06/07/2020

Your Doctor. Dr Michael Jones, Medical Editor.



References

1. NSW Government. Communities & Justice. What is domestic and family violence? Last updated Sept 2019. https://www.facs.nsw.gov.au/domestic-violence/about/what-is-dv.
2. Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. 2018. Violence against women: Accurate use of key statistics (ANROWS Insights 05/2018). Sydney, NSW: ANROWS. https://d2rn9gno7zhxqg.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/19030556/ANROWS_VAW-Accurate-Use-of-Key-Statistics.1.pdf
3. Mission Australia. What is domestic and family violence? Accessed July 2020. https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/what-we-do/children-youth-families-and-communities/domestic-family-violence
4. Legal Aid NSW. Charmed and Dangerous: A Woman’s Guide to Reclaiming a Healthy Relationship. An initiative of Tweed Shire Women’s Services updated and developed by the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program (WDVCAP) at Legal Aid NSW. June 2019. Available at: http://www.northshoredomesticviolence.org.au/uploads/1/2/3/4/1234973/charmed_web.pdf

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